Alan Watts – There is NOTHING wrong with YOU



yesterday afternoon I was discussing the plausibility of two essential features of the philosophy of illusion the question that we have to decide whether to take life seriously or not that is to say whether the plot is coming or tragic and if it's tragic you see is it must we say that it's ultimately tragic and the question of who are you and are we to say that I myself write down a route I'm just a little kind of jerk of some kind that really has nothing to do with this cosmos but just arises in it and is here on sufferance for a short period and then absolutely nothing follows you see or the alternative to that is what I really am the same as the whole thing that is the works the hit or whatever you want to call it Rockman God the dow the great void the buddha nature i don't care the self anything any name you want and whereas that attitude you can look at it for various points of view in judging it you can say it's wishful thinking you can say that it's insufferable pride but the point of the matter is as I tried to show any other way of looking at things is kind of schizoid it looks at human beings as if they arrived in this world like a bunch of birds on the branches of a barren tree and it just got settled there you know they don't belong the sense of being strangers and pilgrims from another domain altogether well where is this other domain and how does it relate to this one are they separate I showed you that even when we say that two domains are the poles apart the very fact that their poles shows that they have a hidden connection and the hidden connection is the big thing in life all you junkies know that and so in other words we get a pattern of organization that is radial rather than an assemblage as if the universe were really a multiverse a lot of things that got collected together out of the infinite wastes of space and sort of began to maunder around each other whereas the other pattern which is so much more sensible as central and radial and I showed you how the crystals and the stars and the octopus's and even the human beings are all radial structures of course we don't see our radial relationship to the totality of the universe because it isn't obvious it's obvious that a tree is an arm of the earth reaching up and waving at the sky and a mountain is another kind of radiation from the earth and so is a leg from a body and hair and things like that but what makes human beings as the highest of the mammals so conscious of being independent is that they are topologically an enclosed surface you see which wanders around independently of the ground what we don't notice is that we are not independent to the ground at all that wandering around is something that is entirely related to there being some ground in other words when you run up a hill the hill also runs you up it the hill rises and lifts you as you run see and if you understand that you don't take a hostile attitude to mountains and Hills you're grateful to them for lifting you up so high in the air because presumably why you end up that the thing was I it was lifted up you wanted to be lifted up it lifted you up you had to cooperate of course I always liked the illustration that I've used before perhaps you haven't heard it all to the assist down the Thistle down to comes moving through the sky I once was playing with a with the thing you know and just came out of the blue sky and it caught it like that pulled it under my nose and it started to pull to get away he looked as if it were a butterfly or something that pulls away when you catch it by the leg and I thought oh no of course that's not the thistledown it's the wind well which was it you know in a famous debate that was settled by the sixth patriarch of Zen there were two monks arguing when the flag was flapping in the wind whether it was the wind or the flag that was moving and he said it's neither it's the mind and so in a way the same thing was true about the Fissel down the mind is the moving thing because which point of view will you take which attitude of mind would you take towards this is it the wind moving the Fissel town or is it the thistledown that is moving itself with the wind after all when you see a sailing boat and there's a man in the sailing boat who is moving the boat is that the wind moving the boat or the man moving the boat because he was smart enough to put up a sail much smarter way of getting around than rowing you don't have to work its intelligence to see the mind that moves the boat and so in the same way I thought you know this thistledown has some kind of intelligence its radial it's organized it's beautiful and it's used that to sail itself with the wind they enable itself to pull like a little organism playing with the wind and so in just the same way each one of us uses the universe to get around and the universe uses us play with and to make games and patterns and to do it stuff so because we seem to be disconnected and entirely sealed within our skin that is a very deceptive thing because the skin is not really the boundary of man you'll notice that in various periods of art human beings have been shaped in different ways and have been more or less transparent at some times at other times opaque and sometimes the emphasis has been on the state of mind which this human being is in at other times the emphasis is on the bodily confirmations and so on in the work of painters today one sees images that at first sight one doesn't recognize as being human there was an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York some years ago called the new image of man and these things didn't look like human beings at all some of them did but but that's because what does a human being look like that depends on your point of view you see if you are prejudiced that a human being is only what is inside his skin then you think that when anybody paints the human being beyond those boundaries that he's lost the image of man he hasn't necessarily lost it at all you see there's an old feeling that the shape of the universe is the shape of man I don't know if you've ever heard that said that man is the microcosm and that the universe as a whole is the macrocosm now as you plumb out into the universe and explore it astronomically it gets very strange you begin to see things in the depths that at first sight seem utterly remote how could they have anything to do with us they are so far off and so unlikely and in the same way when you start probing into the inner workings of the human body you come across all kinds of funny little monsters and wiggly things that there are no resemblance to what we recognizes the human image look at a spermatozoon under a microscope that little tadpole and how can that have any connection with a grown human being it's so unlike you see it's foreign feeling and you get the creeps sometimes a foreign feeling about yourself if you feel your own pulse or if you're able to look at an x-ray or in some way of your inner organs working see they're all strangers to us we don't know about and they give us the creeps as if they were no coming across some weird insects in the dark and that sort of feeling but what we will always find out in the end see when we meet the very strange thing and we look into the distant reaches of space there will one day be the dawning recognition that's me why not me and the the whole game of the universe you see is to appear as strange to itself as it possibly can that's how one keeps variety going that someone keeps wonder going and all kinds of exciting developments how different can you get in the beginning the Lord said get lost to himself see so we shall find for example that space that you see all around you and containing you and you can feel space in many ways space is not only that comes through the eyes the movement of your arms if with closed eyes of for a blind person is his way of knowing space and you can hear space audibly lots of the sounds appear to be in restricted spaces or ample spaces and the silence that goes with sound corresponds to space and even some Thomas Aquinas federal Catholic theologian said that good derives its virtue from evil just as it is the silent pause that gives sweetness to the chant so but space you see that seems to contain space is one's mind this was common sense to people living in the early Renaissance for example at the time of Dante there are many references in Dante's poetry to the identity of mind and space and in likewise in a 8th century text in China the sutra of the sixth patriarch he likens the nature of mine to the nature of space he says just as space contains all the Sun and the moon and the stars and the people in the mountains in the forests so the nature of mind the nature of consciousness the nature of oneself contains all these things so you see that if you think that way you have an image of man that is global that is very different from the image in which man is defined as bounded by his skin that's a prejudice we think now for example I have my own private thoughts well nobody has private thoughts because one thinks in images and words and these words and images are derived from the whole thought structure of the society in which you live we think thoughts the domain of mind is very similar to the grid structure of an electric power supply system you know what happens is the network of power stations and transformers so arranged that if one of them gives out and fails to supply a certain area immediately grid connects them with other sources of power well in rather a similar way our minds are connected let's take one very obvious example of it what northrop frye calls the order of words the order of words is all existing literature both rhetoric what is spoken of course and what is written down now it's his theory that as a scholar of literature and the history of literature he can take any piece of writing of a reasonable length and tell you when it was written because everything that is written and said is inescapably related to the whole order of words and it's amazing what little things you might not notice would give you away because he can say well obviously he has read this thinking say of a particular novelist or poet so it must come after the date when that novel was published but he couldn't possibly use an expression like that to say for example that it was a capital day he would never see would never use that expression living say in contemporary 20th century America that's the Victorianism or is an Edwardian way of talking and so in by all sorts of little clues like that the scholar could pin down a piece of writing to when it was written see that is because every individual piece of writing is function of or writing that's being done well now that's a very specific and almost crude illustration of something that's going on in the far more complicated way than that it isn't only or writing or thinking is being done in relation to the total order of thought and in a still more subtle way all living is being done in relation to the total order of life to what the Chardin calls the biosphere and it goes way beyond that because of the vast interplay of what we now call gravitational and electrical fields which embrace everything that there is that is why in the ancients when a person was born cast his horoscope that was a map of the universe at the time of that person's birth and therefore it was a drawing of his soul because the soul is not inside the body the body is inside the soul the soul your soul is the whole universe as it is focused upon your organism now of course the stralla T is a very primitive science and it interpreted the influence of the universe upon the individual in very crude ways and it works mostly by good guesswork on the part of the astrology if you know how to tell fortunes at a fair you will find out a great deal about how all these predictive psychic sciences work because the client invariably gives himself away either by his anxiety to be told the truth or by his anxiety to conceal it they work equally well now but but there is you see underneath the astrological notion a sound idea that the true map of the soul is the picture of the universe surrounding the individual it isn't necessarily your soul is not the picture of the universe just at the moment when you would born you see it goes along all the time you live because the whole thing expresses itself through you and therefore in that sense the the map of the Stars the horoscope etc was a image of man in just the same way as we regard a picture of the human body as an image of man and it's an image from a different point of view it's a bigger image it shows in other words that your mind is very largely outside your body after all it's inside – it's simultaneous you see I cannot think I can't have a mind without seeing feeling and relating to other people without all the social institutions not only language but the laws the customs the gestures the rituals by which we relate to each other all those things compose the mind for the mind is a huge network of relationships and interconnections at a high level of sensitivity mind and matter are of course polar they go together there are two ways of thinking about the same thing or shall we say two dimensions of the same thing just like length and breadth or just shall we say like shape and color you see nobody ever saw a shape that wasn't colored nobody ever saw a color that wasn't shaped and yet we can see there's a very clear difference between color and shape but they always go together they're always found together well it's the same sort of relationship between mind and matter and the difficulty that people have in trying to reduce one to the other and saying well the world is only material or saying on the other hand that it's only mental is the same difference you would have in trying to reduce all shapes to color us or all colors to shapes shape and color are made for each other like a marriage made in heaven they go together so perfectly and yet stay so marvelously different that's why the Buddhists say difference is identity identity is different it sounds goofy but it makes a great deal of sense because what it's saying is is a relational thing that you don't know what identity is unless you know what difference is and you don't know what difference is unless you know what identity is that relationship between so called opposites is called in the Chinese technical Taoist vocabulary mutual arising so they say to be and not to be arise mutually high and low are mutually posited long and short are mutually delineated and so on now what we see then is the totality of the cosmos focused at each point you see gives rise to the illusion of the independence of the point from the whole just as the human being by virtue of having an enclosed epidermis and to be able to walk instead of having to be rooted to the ground presents the illusion of being separate and so that's why I asked vada to do these demonstrations last night because he showed visually the interdependence of the figure and the background and how the two play together how you can switch from paying attention to one to paying attention to the other and in each case it's significant that is an art that we have lost in our day-to-day perception of life and it leads practically speaking to the serious problem of ecological blindness that is to say to the ignorance which most human beings seem to suffer from especially in our culture that they are inseparably related to their physical environment it looks as if we aren't it looks as if we can go out with bulldozers and insecticides and every kind of a gadget and make over our physical environment as it suits our winds but then we discover to our consternation that we've upset all sorts of balances that the house we made such a nice flat lot for on the hillside suddenly slides down the hill when there's a rainstorm because we took away all the shrubbery it was binding the hill together and you know this happens in Holly every day and I nobody ever seems to learn and that's you see though this immense importance of overcoming the illusion of separateness but people are afraid of that because they think it's communistic they think that the Weslie of a grand style the great thing about Western civilization is it stress on individual personality and its value and that we have created the ideal of personal integrity that is to say that the most important thing in the world is the individual all collectivities corporations States and so on exist as servants of the individual and if they get in his way and they interfere with his private enterprise whatever that may be it's a bad thing man the individual is the crown of creation from this point of view and therefore when anybody suggests that individual man is not what you thought was an individual but is in some way United with and grounded in the totality then if you are of this kind of rugged individualist you mix up your vocabulary and you call the totality the collective now the collective and the totality are two completely different things the idea of collectivism is based on individualism it's the idea that the Society of mankind and the physical environment the art beyond it is a collection with nothing of a kind that's so that's the the idea of cosmic flotsam and jetsam that all floated together into a collection and that's the odd verse of individualism you know American individualism is the same philosophy as Marxist collectivism seen from the other side because they're both based on the same erroneous sensation of individuality and what people don't understand is that a complex and interesting personality is not a matter of being isolated it's a matter of being deeply connected with and aware of one's relationship to the whole surrounding cosmos that suppose that I'm preparing to make a date with some lady and she's such an individualist that her thoughts are only occupied with herself to never thinks about anything that isn't herself but she's an awful bore she had nothing to say she's not interested in any books in any landscapes in any works of art in in in literature in any other people she's a total bra but the more on the other hand she would be interested in all those things that are supposed to be not herself the more of a colorful personality she becomes so the rule is to get away you see from these ideas of the individual of finding his individuality and uniqueness through independence but rather finding his individuality and uniqueness through being related because you see that's what makes a look at it look at the word relation from another point of view when we talk about our friends and relations supposing I come across some individual who I can't make out what kind of a thing he is I can't make out where he came from his accent isn't American it isn't British it isn't particularly middle Western it certainly doesn't have the overtones of New York or New England he just talks flat and as to his style of clothing it's utterly nondescript well I think this is pretty much of a bore what I like to see in an individuality in a physical individual is ways that I can relate him to his ancestry that he has this little subtle accent or this mannerism of his eccentricity or whatever it is that connects him with a great background distinctly but it's his connection with his background that makes him so significant if I can't see that connection he becomes uninteresting so there is no thought in this approach to devalue the individual what really does devalue the individual is any kind of religious or political philosophy that over stresses his isolation and this is something that Californians in particular need to take note of and because many many people feel you see that the development of Technology and of centralized government is a direct threat to the value of personality well in some ways it is but that is only because technology is being developed by personalities who don't understand what personality is they're working on the old individualist – connectivist point of view they are the same so then you see this is then the illusion created that the individual is operating all by himself that actions and thoughts and deeds proceeded solely from inside his skin so that we can say there where it started you see well that's the game of praising and blaming the game of who started it who can we give candy to who can we bang on the head in other words somebody has to be it as in the farmer in the Dell you know and finally we get the end of cheese down to loam the cheese standalone high over there to that well why who started it the group well another fear about this is that it absolves people of responsibility if they see through the illusion of separateness the truth of the matter is actually that no philosophy of history has really succeeded in making anybody more or less responsible in other words let's say that you are a Christian the Catholic of the old fashioned medieval type who believes that you've got an individual soul with freewill and that you're under responsibility to God to obey his law and that if you don't the most disastrous consequences imaginable will befall you you will fry in hell forever there's no evidence whatsoever that believing in that made people any more virtuous than they are today none at all indeed clergy who believed in all this owned whorehouses and all kinds of things they with just as contemptuous of law and order as anybody could be now and part of the reason was of course that the threat of Hell was an unimaginable penalty like the h-bomb it's just too big to think about and really brings justice into disrespect because it uses such crude and clumsy methods you know it's like using a hit a steam hammer to drive in tax responsibility is a thing like a nice face which you either have or haven't certain backgrounds certain interests certain awarenesses of relationship create responsibilities in some human beings and they live that way not because they are giving themself sermons and telling themselves all the time that they ought to be responsible it's because they're intelligent enough to see that being responsible makes things very much easier for everybody all around that's all there is to it and of course that's all as a big oil but you won't in other what I'm saying is the people who are frightened that people will other people will abandon responsibility never did have any way of thinking that would guarantee that people would be responsible there is no such guarantee if the worth we should be automata now I want to switch to another aspect of illusion the quickness of the hand deceives the eye and that is of course the great illusion of what we call matter density impenetrability opacity I find it hard to talk about the illusion of matter because I'm a materialist that is to say I like material and though I may seem to you to be quite self contradictory for example a wine should have body pure alcohol doesn't and it's terribly important in human character for there to be a blend of materialism and mysticism between sensuality and spirituality you see people who are purely sensuous and materialistic at very boring you can fill your lives with all good things with Alfa Romeos and hi-fi's and wonderful cameras and girls with beautiful bodies and chris-craft and dry martinis and Chanel number five you know and after a while if that's all you've got it gets sickening and the bottoms begin to feel like plastic and the martinis taste like medicine and the somehow Brewer you get a distaste for life and even for mountains and trees and waters and there on the other hand the purely spiritual approach to things is too rarefied too earnest too abstract to purely Euclidean and the people who are intensely spiritual and don't have any sensuality are always desperately serious colorless lacking in humor and never are able to meet one as man-to-man with a kind of a friendly leer in the eye that's terribly important yes they live at a level of the frantic intensity I see these two extremes need each other yes a spirituality needs a beer and a loud burp and sensuality needs a rough blanket and the hard bed and the cold night with the stars you know to wonder about the essentialist as such the materialist as such has no wonder and the mystic the pure mystic has no body he is pure alcohol spirit so if then one should say that material is an illusion this seems to be selling out to the spirit people into the mystics and so Christian scientists are and generally speaking as personalities totally lacking in materialism and their prissy and lacking in color and their churches are very very disagreeable they're all reading desks and they're too bookish and they they'd have no ritual of ceremonies though you know verse you see it's all sellable and likewise when people get the wrong idea about Hinduism or Buddhism they go into the same ultra mysticism they start disbelieving in all material pleasures as crutches and it's very bad to have crutches you see you shouldn't take aspirin when you've got a headache you shouldn't wear glasses you shouldn't show dependence on anything you mustn't like your food too much because that's becoming gluttonous so you eat very plain food which is not spiced and you eat it out of a sense of duty that is to keep the body functioning you drink only water because other drinks might cause certain dependences and give you too much pleasure and because the idea is you see you've got to control your mind and keep it absolutely calm and still so that you are not dependent on matha and that's altogether the wrong approach because well I mean it is a game you can play it is one of these possible things I mean you can play the Jehovah's Witness game you can play the 3-speed in three seed in the spirit baptist game all these are various things which you could play just as you can take up a hobby for bridge or fishing or something like that but what happens is you see that the notion that the material world is an illusion it turned into a judgment of value if it's an illusion therefore it's bad I ought not to be under this illusion well the reality of the matter is that if you see that the material world is an illusion you can enjoy it a greatly or better then if you think it isn't a true materialist therefore is one who knows that material is an illusion then he's not afraid of it then he can enter into the dance of material with real zest because you see if you're a false and the fake material is what's happened you borrowed money to buy yourself a Cadillac impressive house ranch-style with a picture window and a patio and a swimming pool and you've bought a lot of stock and you somehow wrangle the money and borrowed it and you keep lying awake nights wondering if you better make the payment well there's no point in that at all well can you possibly enjoy all this jazz if that's the kind of jazz you want to enjoy if you've got to worry about whether you pay for it or not and you get hopelessly involved you'll get commitments here commitments there and finally you have a nervous breakdown and shoot yourself the only way to enjoy material and is to disbelieve in it just as one can disbelieve in money then you you can have zest for it listening otherwise it's much better to be poor I mean if you if you have no taste for the this kind of life and no real interest in it but feel that somehow you ought to have it the status reason much better to stay poor not have any of that stuff at all so then this is the important thing I'm trying to say material is an illusion but a great illusion and the point is to swing it and not to run away from it on the one hand or to get stuck on it in the other then you can play with it it's like a wheel going round if the wheel is too loose on the axle that wobbles all over the place if it's too tight it won't revolve but you kind of sit loose you see to this thing not too loose though now in what way then is the material world an illusion well we know a lot about this now from our physics and we know that what we call solidity is force contained force the agitation of particles or wavicles or whatever they are at such an immense speed that they become impenetrable to other agitations so that when I put my foot on the floor the reason it doesn't go through the floor is that the floor is coming into existence and going out of existence so rapidly that there is no interval through which my foot can penetrate like an airplane propeller you can't put your head through it without getting it chopped off only that if it were going faster still it wouldn't even cut your head off to just be like banging your head against the brick wall and it has to be going fast to within an extraordinarily small and restricted space the airplane propeller is whizzing around through a considerable space in relation to the size of the head but if it was going much faster but through much smaller spaces you see then it would be like banging your head against the brick wall so what we've got in our so called physical objective world is a behavior of energy where the where matter arises from it through its behavior in restricted spaces density is the quality of space rather than the quality of matter to see what I mean I gave the illustration of the airplane propeller to try and show that so that all this is an electronic diaphanous world very similar to our other creations of electronic patterns the dance of forms on the TV screen the rainbow the aurora borealis it's all fundamentally like that only we are of the same kind of jazz you see our bodies are this dance too and therefore the physical world feels real to us in other words it feels solid too costly or something at the same kind if we were on a different wavelength we'd walk right through it in the same way as radio waves come back through the house they are of such a nature that they can penetrate the interspaces the interspecies or in some way jazz signals through and but we are on the same wavelength you see as the wall and so don't go through it but nevertheless the whole cosmos is therefore a function of energy or you could say of light something like light and therefore we and it are all diaphanous now it's easier to see that if you live in a medium where things aren't so dense there's only one other creature as intelligent as man and this lives in a medium that is less dense and this is the dolphin the dolphin is a mammal he and many millions of years ago it seems the Dolphins were living on the land but they are very clever and they decided that the land was no place to live because getting food was difficult and you had to lug yourself around and there were many many bad shows about the land it had very curious changes of temperature it became unspeakably cold and unspeakably hot and you had in fact work a no sensible person ever works I never work I get played for playing and everybody should do that that's the the mark of an educated man is that eventually he gets a job where he's paid for playing and a worker or a proletarian isn't necessarily a poor man a lots of I mean a poor man likes a sailing Morgan Roth or Eric Bakker around here they're not proletarians proletarian is a person who is setted to the process of work that is to say to doing chores every day that he really doesn't like and that aren't in the least interesting in order to go on living so the part that the Dolphins decided this is ridiculous this land existence and they went back to the water and it's pretty easy to fish you see there are plenty of fish in the water and things to eat because we know the ocean is the greatest food supply in the world and when they'd eaten a few fish or whatever they need they decided just to have a ball so the dolphin can get a breast of a ship get one of the will the wakes coming out on the side can set its tail as an angle of 26 degrees know and be pushed along by the ship and it's not going anywhere it's no reason to get along there as you know as if it had to get to another part of the sea and seas pretty much the same all through so they're just going boom and they chatter and dance and they're a really highly civilized beings and so please don't anybody ever kill dolphins or be unkind to dolphins because they're exemplary high-minded creatures and we shall soon discover this as soon as we can set up communication with them they will tell us all about it and we will then invent new style of civilization based on from frolic but you see that they they dance in the in the mode of water now human beings as trine B has pointed out as their civilization progresses they begin to lose their roots and they are less and less tied to the land they go into the air and what's going to happen as if man develops without blowing himself to bits he can get over the hurdle you see that dangerous point is that gradually all roads are going to disappear and the earth will have centers of human habitation you see but no roads there'll be as obsolete as railroad tracks because everybody will fly and once you're using the medium of air is much more fluid than the medium of water and as we fly you see on the land your values are all values of permanence or digiti there's the architectonic in the sense of our great stone structures pyramids and things like that but in the air and on the water all values are fluid and what you have to know to be a good airman is of course stars like white sharks and other migrating birds migrate by the Stars imagine but once you start relating yourself to the Stars you realize that you're living in a universe where directions are all relative and you become a being capable of existing in non solidity and that's why Buckminster Fuller who no believed that all techniques and really all culture came from the sea the men who first learned to sail were the wise men he has a fantastic idea that there were initiates great priests who were ships captains and that although some of those humble seamen didn't know all the secrets but these priests were the first people who knew that the world was round and that that gives one an entirely different theology you see and if you believe that the world is flat and so from the priests of the ocean the Landsman learned how to use cranes blocks and tackles how to build how what a good house an overturned ship made and so to this day a cathedral has a nave as its central auditorium nave from Latins novice ship showing the connections between ships and the first temples and so fuller goes on to say now if you're a good architect as the ancient architects learned from the ocean first thing you should do when you get through architectural school is go and work in an airplane Factory and understand the the beautiful thing that man has made in a fine fine airplane you see which is as great as a bird in its own way because that's the architecture of insecurity and that really lives with insecurity

2 thoughts on “Alan Watts – There is NOTHING wrong with YOU

  1. Of all the things to love about Watts' lectures, this one anticipates almost the whole "new" analysis of language and reality described in post-structuralism which emerged in the 1980s. Except that Watts as usual said it with 100 times more clarity and usefulness.

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